Press Box Musings: World Junior Hockey Championship Preview - Group B

Hey all and Merry Christmas! I hope that the holiday season is treating you well. This is a one-time feature that we will run on the eve of the 2011-12 World Junior Hockey Championships being held in Edmonton and Calgary, Alberta and will be your full access guide to what you can expect at this years event. Here is Part II of our two-part World Junior preview. Keep checking up with us throughout the tournament for more Winnipeg Jets prospect coverage!

Well, for puck enthusiasts everywhere, it's that time again! Over the past decade, Boxing Day has become synonymous with international junior hockey and this year will be no different as Team Canada will look to erase back-to-back heart breaks after suffering losses to the Americans and the Russians in recent tournaments.

Does this years squad have what it takes to succeed where the past two regimes have failed or will the championship drought continue for the Canadians?

Follow us for our thoughts on how Group B will play out.

Without further adieu, here is Part II of our World Junior Preview:

Canada

2010-11 Performance : Silver Medal (L) 5-3 vs. Russia

Players Returning: 4

Winnipeg Jets Prospects: F - Mark Scheifele, Barrie (OHL) - Drafted 1st Round, 7th overall in 2011 Entry Draft

Players to Watch: D - Dougie Hamilton (BOS), F - Jaden Schwartz (STL), F - Devante Smith-Pelly (ANA),

Dark Horse: F - Boone Jenner (CBJ)

Schedule: December 26, 2011 vs Finland 2:30 PM CST; December 28, 2011 vs Czech Republic 7:00 PM CST; December 29, 2011 vs Denmark 7:00 PM CST; December 31, 2011 vs USA 7:00 PM CST

Don't let the pundits fool you, Canada will ice a strong group this year. Both Devante Smith-Pelly (ANA) and Brett Connolly (TB) have been released by their NHL teams to partake in this tournament, which alone makes them one of the better countries in the tournament.

Jaden Schwartz (STL) will return for his second go around after a broken ankle ended his tournament last year.

Another player returning is Quinton Howden, who will be watched closely after suffering from concussion-like symptoms from a hit during the team's selection camp.

Also bit by the injury bug is Jonathan Huberdeau, who - if cleared to play - bolsters an already impressive top six.

Though they have no returnees on the back end, Dougie Hamilton, Ryan Murphy and Brandon Gormley will all be depended on to play a two-way game while contributing on both ends of the ice.

The million dollar question will be who starts in goal for Canada? Will it be the incumbent - Mark Visentin, or will Coach Don Hay turn to Scott Wedgewood in hopes of ending Canada's gold drought?

No matter who tends the pipes for the Canadians, this much is sure, they will be a legitimate contender for the gold medal again this year.

Having said that, they have participated in the championship game every year for the past decade and if any roster might not meet our countries expectations, it could be Don Hay's team on the outside looking in this year.

Prediction: 2nd Place in Group Stage, 3-0-0-1

Final Standings: Bronze Medal (3rd Place)

USA

2010-11 Performance: Bronze Medal (W) 4-2 vs. Sweden

Players Returning: 8

Winnipeg Jets Prospects: none

Players to Watch: G - Jack Campbell (DAL), F - Charlie Coyle (MIN), F - Brandon Saad (CHI)

Dark Horse: D - Jacob Trouba (2012 Prospect)

Schedule: December 26, 2011 vs Denmark 7:00 PM CST; December 28, 2011 vs Finland 2:30 PM CST; December 30, 2011 vs Czech Republic 2:30 CST; December 31, 2011 vs Canada 7:00 PM CST

After failing to seize the gold medal on home ice, team USA will look to snatch two championships in a row on Canadian soil.

John Carlson was the hero back in 2009-10 and this year, America has a handful of strong candidates who are able to deliver the same impact for their nation.

Jack Campbell (DAL) and Jason Zucker (MIN) both make their third appearance at the U20's, while Charlie Coyle (MIN) and Emerson Etem (ANA) both make their second.

Brandon Saad (CHI) will be an interesting player to watch as he was one of the Chicago Blackhawks final cuts this season and after struggling with injuries, has been one of the Saginaw Spirit's top scorers.

Jacob Trouba is slated to be drafted in the top ten selections of this years NHL Entry Draft and could be a dark horse to follow going forward.

The Americans line-up rivals that of any in this tournament and the play of goaltender Jack Campbell will be influential to fans of USA Hockey in the elimination rounds.

The USA has a lot of players who have been there before, much like Group A's team Sweden. A championship game between both USA and Sweden would be an absolute treat to watch; despite its' lack Canadian content.

Look for this to be the year of USA Hockey.

Prediction: 1st Place in Group Stage, 3-0-1-0

Final Standings: Gold Medal (1st Place)

Finland

2010-11 Performance: 6th Place (L) 3-2 (SO) vs. Switzerland

Players Returning: 8

Winnipeg Jets Prospects: none

Players to Watch: F - Joel Armia (BUF), F - Michael Granlund (MIN), F - Teemu Pulkkinen (DET)

Dark Horse: G - Christopher Gibson (LA)

Schedule: December 26, 2011 vs Canada 2:30 PM CST; December 28, 2011 vs USA 2:30 PM CST; December 30, 2011 vs Denmark 7:00 PM CST; December 31, 2011 vs Czech Republic 3:00 PM CST

The past few seasons have been an anomaly for Finnish Hockey as they have not performed to a level fans have become accustomed to.

This year, the trio of brothers Michael Granlund (MIN) and Marcus Granlund (CGY) as well as Teemu Pulkkinen (DET) will dictate just how far this years installment of team Finland goes.

Fortunately for their fans, all three will play together on what should prove to be one of the best lines in the tournament.

Joel Armia (BUF) will be depended on for limited secondary scoring but most of the offense will run through Finland's top line.

Christopher Gibson (LA) - one of this years better stories - must provide stout goaltending for the Finns to reach their full potential.

Gibson - who was born in Canada - moved to Finland during his early childhood as his father took a job as a martial arts teacher in the Scandinavian country. It was here that Christopher learned to tend the goal crease, becoming one of his nations best junior netminders.

Though their top players are making their second and third appearances in this tournament, it's hard to fathom that Finland has the depth to finish atop of Canada or the USA at this point.

Prediction: 3rd Place in Group Stage, 2-2-0-0

Final Standings: 5th Place

Czech Republic

2010-11 Performance: 7th Place (W) 5-2 vs. Slovakia

Players Returning: 2

Winnipeg Jets Prospects: none

Players to Watch: F - Petr Holik (undrafted), D - David Musil (EDM), F - Petr Straka (CBJ)

Dark Horse: F - Radek Faksa (2012 Prospect)

Schedule: December 27, 2011 vs Denmark 7:00 PM CST; December 28, 2011 vs Canada 7:00 PM CST; December 30, 2011 vs USA 2:30 PM CST; December 31, 2011 vs Finland 3:00 PM CST

The Czech Republic are coming to Alberta on the heels of an absolute debacle in 2010-11. After going 1-3-0-0 and settling for a relegation round win against Slovakia, team Czech will be looking to rebound in a major way.

However, Martin Frk - the countries best U20 player - will be absent from this years festivities as he is rehabilitating from a concussion suffered early in the QMJHL season.

Without the presence of Frk, the Czech's will deploy Petr Straka, Petr Holik and Marek Tvrdon in a scoring by committee role while goaltender Petr Mrazek will be counted on to steal them some games.

The Czech's are desperately over-matched in Group B and unless they can find a way to defeat Finland in their New Year's Eve game, appear to be slotted for the Relegation Round again in 2011-12.

Prediction: 4th Place in Group Stage, 1-3-0-0

Final Standings: 7th Place

Denmark

2010-11 Performance: 1st Place - Division IB

Players Returning: 9

Winnipeg Jets Prospects: none

Player to Watch: F - Nicklas Jensen (VAN), F - Nicolai Meyer (undrafted), F - Thomas Spelling

Dark Horse: F - Patrick Bjorkstrand (undrafted)

Schedule: December 26, 2011 vs USA 7:00 PM CST; December 27, 2011 vs Czech Republic 7:00 PM CST; December 29, 2911 vs Canada 7:00 PM CST; December 30, 2011 vs Finland 7:00 PM CST

Alongside Latvia, Denmark also finished in first place of the Division 1 tournament and garnered the opportunity to partake in this years main spectacle. The Danes will make their first appearance since 2007-08 where they did not register a win in round robin play.

Nicklas Jensen (VAN) will be relied upon to carry his country at this years tournament and if Denmark has any hopes of an upset, Jensen will definitley play a huge role in it.

Denmark will also call on the services of Nicolai Meyer, last years Division I leading scorer (12 points in 5 games). With a similar performance in 2011-12, he could potentially be drafted to the NHL as an over-ager in June.

Alas, much like Latvia, don't expect Denmark to put up much of a fight in this years tournament, as they too seem destinined for relegation.

Prediction: 5th Place in Group Stage, 0-4-0-0

Final Standings: 9th Place (relegated)

Thank you for reading this years World Junior Hockey Championships Preview. Tell us what you think will happen at this years tournament in the comments section below.

Part I of our preview which outlines Group A can be found HERE.

For our US readers, check out our pals over at Japer's Rink for more tournament information and links HERE.

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